The teenage years were very frustrating for many young people. The time in life when things were changing and you were trying to get a hot date and right there on your face was a big red zit! You cover it up with makeup. Then another one and another, they just keep popping up. The solution lies in locating and treating the base cause, not just treating the visible evidence on the surface that keeps popping up. That describes my frustration with the lack of management of the lands and resources of the “public lands” of the state.
Public lands have zits? Yep, they are “spot fires” popping up all over, some grow into actual wildfires, other “spot fires” are political, and these are the worst zits to deal with in management. Remember now that good conservation is to manage the lands for “the greatest good for the greatest number.” The single most important conservation management is to produce water from the public lands. To do that requires care and manipulation of the vegetation by such means as thinning the forest trees in some areas and regenerating trees in other areas. Grazing the grasses and shrubs to keep them in check is necessary to keep them healthy and protect the soil. That is it! Simple and to the point!
So what are the zits? One of the first big ones was the political establishment of the Wilderness Act. That has nothing to do with conservation or protection and benefits only about 2 percent of the population. Next on the list is the Endangered Species Act, which again has nothing to do with land conservation or protection, but only feeds the desires of select groups. Then comes the archaeological and historical preservation acts, which also serves a very select group of interests and inhibits management and recreation uses. Don’t get the lynch rope ready just yet, hear me out.
Over the last 6,000 years of recorded history, the earth has been in a state of constant change in climate, vegetation and life forms. Here in Colorado, every day, trees and other plants die, soil is eroded, wildlife die, about 105 people die (4 every hour). On the plus side, new plant life comes up and new wildlife and people are born, weather changes. All life dies, some sooner and some later. Point is, it has and is ALWAYS changing, yet some groups think they can influence politicians to pass laws to stop nature’s constant changes from happening to their preferred interests and stop other men from using and benefitting from the natural resources. It even gets worse as they seek to take control over millions of acres of critical watersheds, ending beneficial conservation management and use by the greater population in the state.
Here in Colorado there is a total of over 24.5 million acres of public lands in federal control (36 percent of the state) of which the Forest Service and BLM together control 22.8 million acres. Most all is critical watersheds. There are 44 wilderness areas covering 3.8 million acres and about 4 million acres of designated roadless areas, and 54 wilderness study areas covering 772,000 acres, for a total of about 8.6 million acres or 38 percent percent of the combined Forest Service and BLM public lands that is OUT of conservation management where they are left alone to die, rot and burn. Access use is limited to only two small recreation user groups, hikers and equestrians. Historic grazing had been permitted to continue, but is gradually being forced out by activists promoting more large predators such as Canadian wolves and of course more bear and lion. They are now trying to take out even more of the lands from conservation management and put it into more wilderness designation to further limit access to only hikers and equestrians. What about the much larger recreation economy and need for watershed management industries of which all are eliminated from that 38 percent of falsely called “public” lands?
Don’t get me wrong, I love to hunt, fish, and hike and archaeology has always been a great interest. I used to go arrowhead hunting and exploring ruins, until they made it against the law for the public to participate. So what is the problem? The lands are not public at all, but are under the remote control of environmental activist corporations. The lands were designated as part of the State of Colorado at statehood, but never allowed the state control of them. The counties are charged with the health, safety and welfare of the entire county, but have no authority on the federally controlled lands to ensure the health, safety and welfare (i.e., economy) of the lands.
In Montezuma County, 73 percent of the county is not able to be managed and controlled as per the state constitution and laws.
Is there an answer? Simply have the governance and control over the lands placed at the local and most efficient level of government, the county. What? The county can’t do that, it is too small. Do you realize that Montezuma County is larger than 33 countries, including Samoa, Luxembourg, Dominica, Singapore, Guam, Liechtenstein, and Monaco (Cortez is bigger than Monaco). Colorado is larger than the U.K., Greece, Costa Rica and many more. Bottom line is, you cannot govern something you have no control or authority over. Right now the State of Colorado has no control over 36 percent of its land and Montezuma County has no control over 73 percent of its land. The economy and future of both are controlled by outside interests. Thomas Sowell, economist and social theorist, said “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.